Open Connections

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Shaping Your Life

Shaping Your Life (SYL) 


Our Group Program for our oldest youth is call Shaping You Life. Creating a fulfilling, enriching and dynamic educational experience for the “high school” years can be an exciting, yet daunting task. OC can play an integral role in actualizing a family’s goals (both the teen’s and the parents’). The goal of the Shaping Your Life program is to expose teens to a wide array of content areas and skill sets that we believe are critical in their becoming thoughtful, dynamic and engaged participants in society.


SYL is a two-day program, meeting on Tuesdays and Thursdays until 4pm, providing time for the teens to delve deeply into both independent and group activities and projects.

  • syl lab

On Tuesdays participants will mostly focus on math and the sciences, in an “OC way” (the importance of truly understanding a concept, rather than rote memorization), and take advantage of OC’s picturesque 28-acre campus (including ponds, a creek, and woods), as well as our Science Lab and Makerspace Room. The process of how concepts are introduced is instrumental to our approach. With that in mind, the most important aspect of our program is placing math and science in a meaningful context to young people. Teens are excited by the prospect of doing work that has meaning and relevance to them. We are fortunate that we are not tied down to a set curriculum, thus allowing for a collaborative experience between Facilitators and teens to emerge when deciding on specific topics to explore. Young people fill out self-assessments and topic suggestion surveys over the course of our program year to help guide us in our planning. The beauty of this structure is that our group can be responsive to the curiosity and developmental progress of the young people within the group. A focus is placed on the development of design and implementation skills, critical thinking, data analysis and written and oral presentation.


The extended day (2pm-4pm) is used to explore individual or collaborative projects that pertain to the teens’ own interests surrounding math and science. Young people utilize this time to conduct experiments, build objects and machines, create computer programs, or engage in a myriad of other activities that further their own development and allow them to pursue their passions. The teens then present their findings and completed projects to the group. These presentations serve as an ideal forum for teens to continue to gain confidence in their presentation and public speaking skills, laying the framework for their larger, more in-depth Symposium event (see details below). The teens also engage in some projects that are collaborative in nature allowing for the development of project management and team-building skills.

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On Thursdays, the SYL program focuses primarily on the humanities, and offers time for youth-directed projects, small group academic study, the development of practical skills, and occasional trips to other sites in the community. The day is generally divided into three segments. The first part of the day is focused on Facilitator-designed activities that represent Language Arts, Civics, and Life Skills. While some mornings might be exclusively focused on discrete subject areas, the group often enjoys the interconnectedness of the humanities. For example, a current event topic like a Presidential Election allows us the opportunity to do research on candidates’ positions on different issues. A natural progression into a public speaking exercise often follows, where young people take on the persona of various candidates, speaking on their behalf in a large group debate. Life Skills is one area that has been added to the morning content because the teens have specifically asked for it. They are on the cusp of adulthood and want practical knowledge on a variety of real-life experiences: applying to college, renting an apartment, filing taxes, etc. Guest speakers and workshops on relevant topics are periodically offered, exposing the youth to different career options and discussing issues of safety, mental and physical health, and personal development. 


During the second segment, youth carry on projects, have Symposium feedback meetings, and engage in independent projects and group activities. This is also the time when young people select different committees on which to serve for their large-scale collaborative project. In the past, this project has taken the form of an overnight trip. Some places the group has traveled to in the past include Baltimore, New York City, Washington, D.C., and Boston. The young people are in charge of planning every aspect of the project, such as executing fundraisers, researching the location, choosing activities and booking hotel rooms and museum tickets. 


A third segment offers the opportunity to choose subjects to study in depth with a small group of peers, led by veteran Facilitators and special Guest Facilitators. The goal is to offer more advanced and direct academic content in a meaningful context. Topics often revolve around a particular theme in order to build connections between disciplines. Facilitators and young people work together to create the topic choices. Examples of afternoon offerings include Computer Modeling, Shakespeare, Folklore, Filmmaking and Cooking. 

  • Symposium 2015 group SYL

The SYL group hosts a Symposium, during which teens present the findings of an individual investigation or study to a community-wide audience. Facilitators provide support for the projects, although the majority of the research and preparation is self-initiated and takes place outside of program time. The Symposium offers a forum for the teens to tackle a long-term project of their choosing in a self-directed environment. 

Both days allow for the natural curiosity of the teens to unfold organically. It empowers young people as learners when we honor and pursue their questions. 


SYL teens utilize the countless resources available on OC’s 28-acre campus. In addition to their dedicated program spaces, the teens spend time: creating and exploring using our laser cutter etcher, 3-D printers, vinyl printer, etc. in the Makerspace; building in the Woodshop; designing and making clothing in the Sewing Room; discussing music theory or engaging in an impromptu jam session in the Music Room; exciting their taste buds as they cook with locally-grown food in the Kitchen; or utilizing the bounty of open space to play large group games outside. 

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In sum, SYL exposes teens to content areas and topics they may not typically gravitate towards, gently pushing them outside of their comfort zones and expanding their horizons. Particular emphasis is placed on fostering a collaborative, nurturing and pro-social learning and play environment. OC’s Process Conscious approach lays the framework for teens to feel comfortable expressing their beliefs, pursuing their ideas, and uncovering their hidden talents. The collaborative nature of the program invites connection-making and strengthens the teens’ sense of belonging, and their ability to make meaningful contributions to group experiences.


Shaping Your Life is likely a fit for youth who are able to: self-advocate to meet their academic, social and emotional needs; demonstrate an ability to work independently and stay on task without constant/direct supervision; demonstrate proficiency in everyday math and computational skills; have familiarity with how to conduct research, create a strong thesis statement and organize an argument; and take initiative and actively engage in an ongoing process to expand both their educational and real world skill development. 



We are strong believers in the value of multi-age/developmental learning and social opportunities. Group IV participants will often join SYL group members for lunch and outdoor games and team-building challenges. 

  • Sasha and her Hammock!


With community comes support, happiness, friends and encouragement.

-Adam, OC Teen